Wendy Watkins

“I feel so lonely at times, completely desolate at others, and sometimes find myself nearly feeling happy. It is three years since Derek died, although it seems like three minutes.”

Wendy Watkins, 70, Claygate, Surrey, retired

“Derek and I met in 1963, I was 17 and he was 18. We met when his London-based Big Band came to Bristol to open the Top Rank Ballroom – Derek was in the trumpet section. We flirted, he from the band stand and I from the ballroom, he took my address and I thought that was that. But on that Sunday, Derek drove from Reading where he lived to see me. I was out but my father directed Derek to my aunt’s house, where I was babysitting, and he just turned up! We saw each other once a week. One month he had an accident driving from Bristol to Reading and wrote off his car. That was when I realised he meant a lot to me. We got engaged the following February and married a year after that.

“Roll forward the years, and Derek woke me one night when he was in bed trembling and shaking uncontrollably. I rushed to get blankets and gradually the rigors calmed down, but about half an hour later they returned and I called 999. The paramedic came and decided to get an ambulance to take Derek to hospital. They did various tests and then we were sent home with instructions to come back if the shakes returned.

“The next morning, Derek screamed out that the shakes had come back. We took him to hospital where where they finally did an ultrasound and found a mass on his intestine and bowel – it was the size of a grapefruit. Derek was operated on that night. The surgeon confirmed that it was cancer. Derek swore that this was not going to beat him, and his enthusiasm and bravery carried the whole family along with him – none of us really thought he would lose his life.

“He was playing trumpet on the James Bond movie Skyfall at the time, and he was very ill, but determined to finish it – and he did. At the end of recording Derek was lauded by the director Sam Mendes, and the whole orchestra rose to cheer and applaud him, both as a musician but also for his incredible bravery. Derek rang me in tears afterwards. We were also invited to the Royal Premiere of Skyfall and introduced to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Derek nearly burst with pride.

“The very next day he was rushed into hospital – the tumour was growing again and pressurising his organs. We were told there was nothing more that could be done for him and that he only had three months to live. For the second time only since his diagnosis, Derek cried and we held each other, neither of us believing that this was the end. His death was recorded in all the national newspapers, on Sky, BBC and ITV News, as well as reverberating throughout the music business.

“I went into shutdown. I went to counselling, took anti-depressants – this went on for over a year before I felt strong enough to go forward. I pruned my friends, I no longer wanted people in my life who were not going to help me. I feel so lonely at times, completely desolate at others, and sometimes find myself nearly feeling happy. It is three years since Derek died, although it seems like three minutes. I often play over in my mind things that happened over the two years from his diagnosis – his death, what we said to each other, what he asked of me, how he must have felt and how brave he was. I do not feel I have a future in the real sense of the word, just time passing by. Yes, I have my children and grandchildren but even in a crowded room I can feel out of place and uncomfortable on my own – I hate this life, I hate cancer.

“The times when I just shut the door are now over, and I am getting out and about more, but I miss our life together, the interesting things we used to do, and the life we used to live. However I am also aware that I am very lucky. I do not think I could get a little part-time job in a shop, that is not me, nor are coffee mornings, but I am going to try to find an outlet to suit me.”

"I would like to thank the  hundreds of musicians and friends who organised fundraising concerts, bike rides, and other fundraisers in memory of Derek. You have made a huge difference to me, my family and Sarcoma UK."